Fairbanks might seem an unlikely home for a professional tea guru, but Jenny Tse has no intention of leaving. She has spent most of her life in Fairbanks, and it’s where she started her artisanal tea company, Sipping Streams, in 2007. Her tea has won 11 international awards and her book The Essence of Tea was an Amazon bestseller. When people learn that she’s based in Alaska, they often suggest her business will do better in Seattle or Portland. Instead, Tse keeps investing more in her community. “I love Alaska. This is our Alaskan life; this is our story; this is what we can do to sustain ourselves, our community, and our economy,” she says.
In 2021 Tse launched the first and only tea farm in Alaska. The idea of growing tea in Alaska seems far-fetched because it requires high humidity and temperatures above 20 degrees. Not exactly Fairbanks’ climate. Those conditions do exist, however, in the geothermal-heated greenhouses at Chena Hot Springs. After some encouragement from her husband and permission from Chena’s owner, Tse ordered 45 tea plants from North Carolina and planted them in early summer. She’s selling the first batch of tea in the store at Sipping Streams and online. If the project goes well, she hopes to eventually expand to a full two acres, which could yield nearly 1,000 pounds of dried tea in a year.
“We’re the northernmost tea farm in the world,” Tse says. She’s excited to discover which varietals grow best in Alaska and how the terroir affects the flavor. By growing tea locally she’ll provide jobs for residents, reduce the emissions impact of her business, and potentially encourage others to follow suit. “People don’t know that Alaskans have amazing home-grown products… If we can grow tea here, why not? And maybe that will open up other people to grow tea here,” Tse says.